never tilled rice paddies at sunrise,
never handpicked cotton under blue skies,
never dug irrigation canals in winters,
never mucked out stables before dusk,
never smelled purple soybean flowers,
never sucked blood from my shanks, calluses
never formed hard and thick on my palms, the sun
never blistered my back,
never acquainted myself with local peasants,
never worked with them shoulder to shoulder,
never chatted with them in their shacks,
never witnessed the joy and pain of their life,
if all this
never was a part of reeducation, I could
never relate grains to drops of sweat and
never imagine the oil lamp as the light of hope.
Five decades have long gone.
My body has become a rusty plow.
Some nights I dream of tilling at sunrise or
reading in the deep night with a desire
to turn to a new page of life.
Indebted to Land
After dusk surges
across the sky,
the moon appears
over the village,
full and graceful
like a Tang Dynasty lady
pacing in a red robe.
In a while
It floats up
over the plowed fields,
its radiant sleeves
as if ribbon-dancing
with throws and spirals.
At this moment
you stand by the furrow
and let petrichor
enter your body
a way to accept
a way of life,
a way to balance
the way of self
through hard times.
Jianqing Zheng’s poetry collections include A Way of Looking, Enforced Rustication in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, The Landscape of Mind, Delta Sun, and Delta Notes. He teaches at Mississippi Valley State University where he edits Valley Voices.